Steven Rings



Associate Professor of Music


Ph.D., Yale, 2006


Office: Goodspeed Hall 304
Phone: (773) 702-8577

Steven Rings’s research focuses on transformational theory, phenomenology, popular music, and voice. His book Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) — recipient of the Society for Music Theory’s 2012 Emerging Scholar Award — develops a transformational model of tonal hearing, employing it in interpretive essays on music from Bach to Mahler. His current book project explores Bob Dylan’s fifty-year performing career. Rings’s article “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009” (Music Theory Online, 2013) won the 2014 Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group. In other recent research Rings has explored the popular singing voice and the music of Gabriel Fauré. He is also co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory with Alexander Rehding, for which he contributed the chapter on “tonic.”

Rings is currently embarked on a Mellon-funded collaboration with composer and percussionist Glenn Kotche—best known as the drummer for the band Wilco—under the auspices of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. As part of their collaboration, Kotche and Rings taught a course during Winter Term 2017 that sought to rethink the three musical categories of voice, groove, and song, considering them at once as a fused, holistic group, and as parameters amenable to strategic separation and recombination in contemporary composition. In previous years, Rings’s graduate seminars have explored the concept of melody; the relationship between song, track, and performance in diverse vernacular music traditions; the music of Bob Dylan; Lewinian transformational theory; and musical presence. Rings teaches tonal and post-tonal theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels, a class on musical interpretation and criticism in the College Core (Music 10400), and a graduate proseminar on current trends in music analysis.

Rings has served on the faculty of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Study in Music Theory and he is the series editor of Oxford Studies in Music Theory. He has also served as Chair of the University of Chicago Society of Fellows and is Resident Dean at Campus North Residential Commons. Rings also co-founded City Elementary, a therapeutic elementary school in Hyde Park. Before becoming a music theorist, Rings was active as a classical guitarist, performing in the U.S. and in Portugal, where he was Professor of Guitar at the Conservatório Regional de Angra do Heroísmo.

Recent Courses Taught

  • Music 43216: Melody
  • Music 43214: Song, Track, Performance
  • Music 43812, Seminar: Bob Dylan as Musician
  • Music 43311, Seminar: Music’s Presence
  • Music 43309, Seminar: Bartók
  • Music 43808, Seminar: Analyzing Meaning
  • Music 43707, Seminar: Lewinian Transformational Theory
  • Music 31300: Post-Tonal Analysis (grad)
  • Music 31200: Tonal Analysis II (grad)
  • Music 25300: Analysis of Twentieth-Century Music (undergrad)
  • Music 15200: Harmony and Voice-Leading II (undergrad)
  • Music 10400: Music Analysis and Criticism (undergrad)

Selected Works

  • The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory, co-edited with Alexander Rehding, Oxford University Press, 2019 (forthcoming)
  • “Speech and/in Song,” in A Voice as Something More, edited by Martha Feldman and Judith Zeitlin, University of Chicago Press, 2019 (forthcoming)
  • “Music’s Stubborn Enchantments (and Music Theory’s),” Music Theory Online 24.1 (2018)."Sense and Surplus: Analyzing the Popular Singing Voice," Journal of the American Musicological Society 68/3 (2015)
  • "'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right': A Genealogy,"  public lecture, Franke Institute for the Humanities, February 4, 2015
  • A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009,Music Theory Online 19.4 (2013)
  • “Talking and Listening with Jankélévitch,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 65/1 (2012)
  • “The Learned Self: Artifice in Brahms's Late Intermezzi,” in Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning, ed. Heather Platt and Peter Smith, Indiana University Press, 2012
  • “Riemannian Analytical Values, Paleo- and Neo-,” in The Oxford Handbook of Neo-Riemannian Studies, ed. Alexander Rehding and Edward Gollin, Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Tonality and Transformation, Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Mystéres limpides: Time and Transformation in Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige,” 19th-Century Music 32/2 (2008)
  • “Perspectives on Tonality and Transformation in Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat, D. 899,” Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2 (2007)
  • Review of three books by David Lewin, Journal of Music Theory 50/1 (2006)